Bulls

Fred Hoiberg hints at more changes on horizon for Bulls lineup

Fred Hoiberg hints at more changes on horizon for Bulls lineup

More changes are on the horizon for the Bulls, still smarting after a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves that feels like more than just one on the ledger.

It doesn’t seem like Fred Hoiberg can do much more aside from playing his last two first-round picks, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis, who both went with the dreaded “DNP-Coach’s Decision” on the scoring sheet Tuesday night as the Bulls coughed up a 21-point lead — the biggest giveaway in the NBA this season.

Valentine looks like he’ll get more of a look, perhaps in place of the struggling Isaiah Canaan, who didn’t play Saturday against Miami and hasn't been much of an offensive factor when he has played in the last week or so, as he’s shooting 13 percent from 3-point range this month.

Valentine played 22 minutes against Portland after playing 25 in the blowout loss to Dallas earlier this month, but hasn’t seen much time since. Even though Rajon Rondo (ankle) is expected to be back, it appears Valentine will get a bit of an extended look.

“We'll continue to work at things as we move forward as far as possibly changing some things up with guys coming off the bench,” Hoiberg said. “We've tried to change our substitution patterns to where we have at least one, more often than not two, starters out there on the floor at all times.”

Second-round pick Paul Zipser, a player who’s seen more time in the D-League than on the floor, will get a look as well. It doesn’t feel quite like desperation but one has to wonder if Hoiberg’s patience with some of his young players is starting to run thin.

“Paul Zipser will get an opportunity at some point from what he has shown,” Hoiberg said. “Even that game he played for Windy City, he showed a lot of promise and has a bright future. We’ll continue to keep those guys ready and hopefully they’ll help us win some games and produce.”

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Valentine hasn’t found his groove since returning from an ankle injury he suffered in the first preseason game, which cost him a lot of time. Also, he seems to struggle finding his way without being a playmaker, which was his specialty at Michigan State.

Here, he would have more value as a shot maker than creator considering he plays more with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. Either there’s not much trust in him running the show or they simply don’t need him to at this point.

“Denzel will see more time as we move forward. There’s no doubt about that,” Hoiberg said. “A lot of it has been based on what he’s doing out here, the amount of time and effort and work he’s putting into it. There will be a time again when Bobby gets that opportunity.”

What the Bulls need is some form of perimeter shooting and even more pressing is the need to be settled when other teams make runs, such as the Timberwolves coming back from a 19-point deficit in the last four minutes of the first half to cut it to a manageable four-point game at the half.

“The biggest thing that I looked at as I watched it a couple times and laid awake thinking about it was just the lead we gave up,” Hoiberg said. “A 21-point lead in your home building, you have to find a way to win those games. That was the focus for me.”

Calling the collapse “inexcusable”, Hoiberg noticed a few other basic tenets being abandoned in the afternoon film session before his team’s back-to-back set against the young and athletic Milwaukee Bucks Thursday and Friday: Terrible transition defense and inconsistent rebounding.

Robin Lopez said the Bulls have shown the foundation of being a good defensive team that rebounds well, but it slipped for a night.

“I think we're a very strong defensive team, honestly,” Lopez said. “We've been successful, we've been very good at that. We've rebounded well, we've defended well, especially in transition we've guarded pretty well. When we give up offensive rebounds, when we let teams get easy buckets off the glass, we're not quite as good.”

And when those things sprout up, it puts Hoiberg in the unenviable position of more shuffling, even though nobody appears ready to step forward with each opportunity.

Bulls reportedly request to have Asik's contract removed from team salary

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USA TODAY

Bulls reportedly request to have Asik's contract removed from team salary

According to a report from Shams Charania, the Bulls have appealed to have center Omer Asik’s contract removed from the team’s books via the career ending injury or illness provision.

He has been away from the court for some time now, as he has been receiving ongoing medical treatment for inflammatory arthritis. Asik was waived by the Bulls in late October

Asik’s last game was April 11 during the 2017-18 regular season. He played for the Bulls during his first two seasons in the NBA and eventually made his way back to the Bulls as a part of the Nikola Mirotic trade.

If the league approves the Bulls’ request, it would provide Chicago with an additional $3 million is salary cap space. That $3 million would go a decent ways towards helping the Bulls add depth and veteran help to their roster, something John Paxson outlined as a major point of emphasis in his end of season address.

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NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in Jarrett Culver

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USA TODAY

NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in Jarrett Culver

The phrase “getting downhill” became somewhat of a buzzword during Jim Bolyen’s first year at the helm. It may not have elicited the same reactions as his “soul and spirit” comments did, but the Bulls had clear instruction to blitz defenses by getting to spots and attacking the basket. The result was the Bulls leading the NBA in drives per game after Dec. 3, when Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg. They went from 41.9 last season, to 43.3 under Hoiberg this past season to a whopping 55.9 under Boylen.

Personnel certainly played a part, as Kris Dunn averaged 11.7 drives and played just two games for Hoiberg, while an aggressive Lauri Markkanen in February also helped the cause. No matter how you slice it, Boylen likes his guys attacking the rim. The hope is that it eventually leads to kickouts and open 3-pointers, but the Bulls aren’t quite there yet.

They led the NBA in drives per game but were just 15th in points percentage, netting points on just 55.7% of drives (15th best). Despite their pass percentage being 18th in the NBA (they passed after drives 36.4% of the time) they were 28th in assist percentage, with a drive resulting in an assist just 8.3% of the time.

One could surmise that the Bulls need shooters. Instead, we’ll argue today that they should continue to play the drives game. That means going after Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver. The sophomore put together an outstanding year in Lubbock, Tex., averaging 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.4 steals in 38 games. He led the Red Raiders to the NCAA championship game, where they lost in overtime to Virginia.

Culver excelled attacking the rim. Whether it’s using pick-and-rolls, cutting off the ball or using his length in post-up action, Culver was a beast around the rim. Per Synergy Sports, he shot almost 59 percent on 269 attempts around the rim. Though he settles for midrange jumpers at times, he’s got a strong dribble, does a nice job lowering his shoulder and finishes with contact. And again, he plays longer than his listed height. His wingspan will be interesting to see at the Combine as he seemingly hasn’t stopped growing over the last year.

Working in Culver’s favor as far as his NBA prospects are concerned is that he had an excellent season in pick-and-roll action. Though he played 84 percent of his minutes at shooting guard, Culver had 201 pick-and-roll actions. He scored 162 points on those – placing him in the 63rd percentile among all players – and his turnover rate of 14.4% was 18th among the 50 players with 200 or more PnR possessions.

In addition to his ability getting to the basket, Culver is an experienced player who can work off the likes of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. He’s an apt passer, too, averaging the 3.7 assists off the ball.

Then there’s his defense. Wingspan doesn’t equal good defender, but Culver uses it incredibly well. He’s arguably the second best wing defender in the class behind Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, but he projects as someone who would gibe the Bulls continued versatility to switch. A defense with Wendell Carter, Otto Porter and Culver is a large improvement from 12 months ago.

The Bulls need shooting. Badly. Culver’s outside numbers were ugly, but consider two facts: He shot 38.2 percent from deep as a freshman on nearly the same amount of attempts and his form isn’t broken. He had seven games with three or more 3-pointers, and shot 24 of 45 in those games (53.3%). He’s a smart player and can really get going when he feels it.

If you’ve read to this point, consider Jimmy Butler as an NBA comparison. Not overly fast or athletic, but gets to his spots, is strong attacking the rim, plays solid defense and can catch heat from deep from time to time. The Bulls could use Culver as a sixth man who staggers with Zach LaVine and Otto Porter and gives the Bulls someone to attack on the second unit – Shaq Harrison and Wayne Selden didn’t exactly cut it last season. He’d be a good complement to Chandler Hutchison, too, as another lengthy defender who can play multiple positions.

Culver doesn’t have the ceiling of a Zion, Ja or Barrett. But he’s also got perhaps the highest floor of anyone in the draft. His defense is going to translate and there’s room for a non-point guard who can run pick-and-roll action. He’ll keep the ball moving, which should have him at the top of the Bulls’ draft board. If his 3-point numbers get back to where he was as a freshman, he has All-Star potential. Defenses may sag in on him at the pro level, which could make attacking the rim more difficult. But even if that’s the case, he’ll still work well off the ball as a cutter.

His skills translate as someone who can play right away. That’s what the Bulls need after an injury-riddled 28-win campaign didn’t really move the rebuild forward. It’s time to take a step forward, and Culver gives them the best chance to do so if they aren’t lucky enough to move up in the Lottery.